special inspector general

The Looming Narco-State in Afghanistan

Testifying Wednesday before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, offered a grim assessment of the war-torn country—and revealed startling details about America’s hapless reconstruction efforts there.

Few have a job as challenging as Sopko’s. As the inspector general, he must study our actions and spending, and uncover and investigate examples of fraud, waste, abuse, and corruption. Since the U.S. has spent the last 12 years blasting dollars into Afghanistan, “following the money” is a task on the order of investigating grains of sand in the desert. Still, Sopko and his team have proven to be uncompromising, inexhaustible, and enormously effective. His office is independent; he is not beholden to the usual feudal lords in Washington. As Congress has decided to sit this war out, Sopko has proven to be the conflict’s only real oversight mechanism.

Since taking charge in 2012, he’s uncovered everything from $230 million in missing spare parts to spending on diesel running $500 per gallon (when the going rate was around $5 per gallon). Thanks to Sopko, American taxpayers learned that they bought $200,000 thermostats for air conditioners in a small medical clinic that was never completed—and according to the Afghan government, was probably never going to be used. And that’s just in the areas to which he has access. Because of security concerns, by next year his office will be restricted to a mere 21 percent of the country.

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AFGHANISTAN, KUNAR : An Afghan security force member destroys an illegal poppy crop in the Noor Gal district of eastern Kunar province on April 29, 2014. Citing the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, John Sopko, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, said January 2014 that the rise in opium production is expected to continue and threaten the stability of the Afghan government. AFP PHOTO / Noorullah Shirzada